Joni Ernst, Iowa, and the GOP Circa 2024
They are who we thought they were.
“Storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to influence elected officials — an insurrection as many have called it — is not, and will never be, a peaceful protest. It is anarchy — and America and her people cannot stand for it in any form.” — Joni Ernst, January 11, 2021, Des Moines Register Op-ed
“I did not call them insurrectionists. I don’t remember using that term.”— Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), January 14, 2023, Meet the Press
We’ll come back to Senator Ernst in a moment, but first the obligatory punditry:
The Don cleared 50 percent in the low-turnout Iowa caucus. Via the NYT:
Ron DeSantis kept the tattered simulacrum of hope twitching by finishing second. His defeat was accompanied by a good deal of whining and complaints about the right-wing media. Who knew, right?
Nikki Haley came in third and rolls on to New Hampshire, where her performance will now be bracketed by her underwhelming showing in Iowa and being crushed in the next round of primaries.
Vivek is out, unlamented and destined for a career of febrile attention-seeking from the fringes.
As always, some context would be helpful here: Just a few days after heaving up 40 Truth Social posts mocking, attacking and re-defaming a woman he had sexually assaulted (“stunning some advisers with the fusillade”) Trump won the Iowa caucuses by 30 points, winning 98 out of 99 counties.
In the last few days, the former president — who faces more than 90 felony charges and is now standing trial for fraud and defamation — referred to the Capitol rioters as “hostages,” declared that illegal immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of the nation, hurled insults at Iowa’s Republican governor, and spread racist birther theories about one of his challengers.
And Republican voters loved it. Or at least the handful who braved the cold to stand around in high school gyms under fluorescent lights and listen to speeches from folks in red hats.
But who are we kidding? This is what the Republican Party Writ Large wants, and it is going to give it to the rest of us good and hard.
As Mona Charen reminds us this morning, this may not play as well with the electorate in November:
The Des Moines Register pre-caucus poll also found that among these gung-ho Republicans, six percent would support Robert F. Kennedy Jr. rather than Trump, and eight percent would seek another third party choice. Bottom line: At least 25 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers say they will not vote for Trump in the general.
That’s significant. Our elections are decided by a few thousand votes in five swing states. Admittedly, Iowa is not one of those swing states, but if large numbers of Republicans in ruby-red Iowa are saying they will not vote for Trump in the general election, what does that suggest about Republicans in places like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia?
The vote nonetheless revealed weaknesses that could pose problems in a general election, so Republicans in New Hampshire should think hard if they want to gamble on another Trump run….
He could be a convicted felon by the summer, and the Iowa entrance poll showed that no fewer than 32% of GOP caucus-goers said that a conviction would be disqualifying. But by then it may be too late for Republicans to choose another candidate.
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Joni Ernst and the Future of the GOP
Before we move on from Iowa (which, frankly, can’t happen quickly enough), let’s take yet another moment to consider the mind of the GOP circa 2024.
Host Kristen Welker asked the Ernst about Trump’s oft-repeated intention to pardon the January 6 rioters, perhaps even those convicted of beating police officers or engaging in seditionist conspiracy. “Would you advise him against that?” Welker asked. “Are you opposed to pardoning those who are serving time for January 6th?”
Ernst’s response was vacuous but spoke volumes. Essentially, she said she was okay with freeing the insurrectionists because the president had the right to do it.
SEN. JONI ERNST: I am not opposed to that. That is a president's prerogative. And so if former President Donald Trump is elected as our next president, he does have the right to do that. And I think we all need to reflect on January 6th and understand it was –
Welker pressed her on the actual merits of the decision and her own position.
WELKER: But, I mean, 700 of them, Senator – 700 of them have pled guilty to crimes related to storming the Capitol on January 6th. You would support pardoning them?
SEN. JONI ERNST: Well, again, I am not saying that I would support pardoning them, but that is a president's prerogative to do so. We have seen many presidents through the years that have pardoned many others. And so if Donald Trump chooses to do that as our next president of the United States, again, that will be his decision.
Welker tried yet again. Surely, the Iowa senator who was decisive when it came to the forcible removal of swine testes had to have some opinion on the merits of wiping away the convictions of the attackers who had tried to overturn the election?
WELKER: These are people, though, who attacked the building that you are in. You called them, "Insurrectionists," at the time. Would you not counsel Mr. Trump against pardoning them?
At this point, Ernst came down with the same amnesia that has spread so virulently within the GOP ranks.
SEN. JONI ERNST: No. I did not call them, "insurrectionists." I don't remember using that term. I would say that they did break the law. They did break the law. And I am not excusing any of their behavior. But, again, that's up to the president.
Welker, to her credit, fact-checked her. “That term was used in an op-ed by you in the Des Moines Register.” Which, indeed, it was. Back in January 2021, she had written: “Storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to influence elected officials — an insurrection as many have called it — is not, and will never be, a peaceful protest. It is anarchy — and America and her people cannot stand for it in any form.”
Three years later, Joni Ernst and her colleagues are more than willing to stand for it. They have no objection to handing Get Out of Jail cards to the anarchists who attacked the seat of their own government.
And thereby hangs a tale.
Over the next few months as anti-anti-Trump commentators make their inevitable transition back to rationalization and appeasement, they will assure us that the U.S. Senate, at least, will serve as a check on Trump’s excesses and predations. America’s institutions will hold; the “adults in the room” will keep the Ship of State from foundering.
But the adults will be gone and, if Ernst is any indication, the men and women who make up those institutions have already surrendered. It seems hopelessly naive to think that GOP senators like Ernst will ever serve as a guardrail on Trump’s march through the Constitution.
They have already accepted his Big Lie, forgiven his many crimes; and few of them seem to have serious qualms about backing him even if he is a convicted felon. His threats to weaponize the criminal justice system against his enemies in a campaign of retribution seems only to have hastened the mass capitulation of the normies.
They will not block the nomination of extremists and crackpots to his cabinet. They won’t object to the mass release of seditionists. They will have no objection to his obstruction of justice or his self-pardon.
It is not just the hogs who have been gelded.
Will Saletan: The GOP Surrenders before 1st Vote
On our Monday podcast: Republicans are racing to bend the knee before the Iowa caucuses even start, while also looking like they want border chaos. Plus, we are not yet in MLK’s “promised land”.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
1. Rallying Cries for the MAGA Right
As president during the worst public health crisis in a century, Donald Trump promoted crack cures, including injecting disinfectants to make the COVID go away. He appeared to use a Sharpie to change the trajectory of a hurricane to match his erroneous pronouncements. He kicked scientists off EPA advisory panels, replacing them with quacks. He shrugged off the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding climate change, declaring, based on no evidence: “It will start getting cooler, just you watch.” (No, 2023 was, by far, the warmest year on record, but gosh darn if Iowa didn’t get real cold in mid-January!)
Now Trump has shared his non-peer-reviewed findings about magnets, claiming they stop working if they get wet. “Now all I know about magnets is this, give me a glass of water, let me drop it on the magnets, that’s the end of the magnets,” Trump expounded during a recent Iowa rally….
Trump also recently explained that the way to prevent wildfires in California forest lands is to keep them damp. As he put it: “If you dampen your forests you’re not gonna have these forest fires that are burning at levels that nobody’s ever seen.” Someone needs to get right on that.
2. Anti-Ukraine Chorus Seeks to Exploit an American’s Death
There is no evidence that Lira was tortured in prison, let alone that the Biden administration supported such torture. In a handwritten note Lira’s father shared with the media (undated but written either in late December or early January) he said that his lung-related health problems had started in October and were ignored by prison authorities, resulting in double pneumonia and severe edema; in the same note, however, he said that he was “about to have a procedure to reduce the edema pressure in [the] lungs.” Even so, reliable information on the facts of his death (and his imprisonment) needs to be made available. Likewise, claims by Lira’s father that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine ignored his pleas for help should be looked into—even if, when Lira was still alive, his complaints about the U.S. State Department’s indifference to his plight came with a predictably racist and homophobic dig at Brittney Griner, the American basketball player released from Russian captivity in December 2022. However vile, Lira was still a U.S. citizen. And while many of his champions have a weak grasp of the facts of the case (Musk, for instance, got community-noted for falsely tweeting that Lira had been in prison for five years), the real facts raise some concerning questions.
Alive, Gonzalo Lira was not a journalistic hero but a grifter and propagandist for a regime that kills and imprisons journalists. Dead, the best way to neutralize his potential martyrdom is full transparency.
MAGA moron vs. MLK Jr.
URBANDALE, Iowa — Joni Ernst was lagging behind in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate here in Iowa. She was a relative unknown in a crowded field led by a wealthy businessman. Then she started talking about castrating hogs.
Ernst spent just $9,000 to air her first television ad, but her testimonial — "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm" — and her promise to apply those pork-cutting skills to "make 'em squeal" in Washington transformed her candidacy.
At a time when voters tune out many political messages, the ad was a vivid reminder of the enduring power of a single image. In the first three days, her 30-second spot was viewed nearly 400,000 times on YouTube and became the talk of cable news, catapulting the state senator from rural Red Oak into the top tier.